CLEVELAND — Francisco Lindor watched his hit squirt into the outfield and then danced his way down the first-base line before being engulfed by a wave of elated teammates.
Three outs from defeat, the Indians pulled out an unlikely victory that felt bigger than one win.
Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington’s drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and Cleveland rallied for three runs in its final at-bat to stun closer Jonathan Papelbon and the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of first-place teams with sights on October.
Down two runs and in danger of their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.
“That’s an ugly way to lose one,” Baker said. “I’m at a loss for words.”
With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his hit into right field to cap an inning that included a clutch double by rookie pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin, a pair of well-executed bunts by the Indians, a throwing error by Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and another big highlight by Lindor, one of the AL’s rising stars.
“You never know,” said Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez, whose hustle to first might have rushed Zimmerman’s throw.
Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10. The Indians had been on the road since then because of the All-Star break and the Republican National Convention.
Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer and Wilson Ramos added a solo shot for the NL East-leading Nationals, just 4-6 since the All-Star break.
The Indians, who overcame three errors, began their rally against Papelbon with a leadoff walk to Jose Ramirez. Naquin followed with an RBI double, and Gimenez dropped his bunt that Zimmerman fielded and threw past second baseman Daniel Murphy covering the bag, allowing Naquin to score the tying run on the error.
Rajai Davis then intentionally popped up his bunt attempt, which dropped onto the infield grass for a single over the head of a charging Rendon.
“That could’ve went either way, but fortunately, I was able to get enough of that ball to find some green, where the defense wasn’t,” Davis said. “That’s my goal.”
Baker then pulled Papelbon for Oliver Perez, who got Jason Kipnis to fly to left for the first out. Lindor fouled off one pitch before getting his single past Murphy to score Gimenez as the Indians poured out of the dugout.
“There were a few things I’d like to have back,” Papelbon said. “Put all that together and it makes for an inning like you saw tonight.”
Before Cleveland’s comeback, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez was in line to improve his unbeaten record against Cleveland. The left-hander allowed two runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings and is 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA in eight career starts against the Indians.
According to the Nationals, Gonzalez’s 1.07 ERA is the lowest for any pitcher in major league history with at least eight starts against Cleveland.
A 75-year-old woman was taken to a hospital after being hit in the face with a foul ball off Murphy’s bat.
Muir West was sitting down the right-field line — and might have been blinded by the sun — when she was struck by a hard shot from Murphy in the first inning. Fans sitting in her section immediately called for security and medical personnel, who rushed to her.
A family member said West’s glasses were broken in the mishap and she received a cut on her face.
Her wound was heavily bandaged before she was placed on a stretcher and taken to MetroHealth Hospital. There was no immediate word on her condition.
Nationals: Zimmerman returned from the disabled list after missing 13 games with a strained left rib cage and went 0 for 4.
Indians: OF Michael Brantley feels encouraged after hitting in the cage for two days following a small procedure to relieve discomfort in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Brantley has been on the disabled list since May 14. He was on a rehab assignment at Double-A Akron recently when he had a setback in his recovery. However, the former All-Star remains confident he can have an impact this season.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, who took his first loss last week after starting the season 13-0, makes his first start against Cleveland since 2013.
Indians: Carlos Carrasco will be pitching on six days’ rest because of a pair of scheduled off days. He’s won five of his last six starts, posting a 1.16 ERA.
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